Globalisation. My seven year old daughter knows all about it and we had to go to Barcelona for her to let us know. This is the same daughter who asked, ‘Papa, why is everything made in China?’ And yes, he responded. Right or wrong.
As a parent, I’ve learnt the hard way, not to promise my children anything till I’m pretty sure it can happen. So days out, specific meals to cook and even a commitment to read a book on a certain Monday evening of the week just might not work out. Work, life, other incidents interrupt and punctuate my plans, fairly often.
So when I began to tell J and R about thick Spanish chocolate and churros for degustado, I knew I was setting myself up – for our ears would have no peace till they had both the chocolate and the ribbed pastry sticks. I told them the delightful Spanish combo could be found in cafés littered about town.
According to ehow, Churros like a lot of modern dishes evolved from humble, pastoral beginnings:
Centuries ago, Spanish shepherds used to make churros while tending churra sheep high in the mountains. Because they did not have many cooking supplies, they needed to come up with a food that could be made easily and cooked over an open fire. Churros were a logical solution as they could be easily put together and cooked with a mere pan and oil. Churros were named after the churra sheep because the pastry resembled the sheep’s horns.
Using wheat flour, the shepherds would roll out a length of dough and fry it in a pan over an open fire. It was not the star-shaped pastry you see today. It was more like a breadstick in shape and size. After cooking, the shepherds would eat it plain or roll it in cinnamon-sugar. With the Spanish settlement of the Caribbean and much of Latin America, churros also made their way to the New World. As Latin Americans immigrated to the United States, so did this delectable dessert. Churros are now sold in street carts, markets, cafes and restaurants. Although they moved across an ocean, churros did not lose their popularity in Spain either. Today, churros are still a very popular Spanish breakfast, snack or dessert item.
As its popularity grew outside the shepherding population, the shape of the churro began to evolve. Using a churrera—an extruder with a star tip—churro-makers now create a star-shaped length of dough rather than the traditional breadstick shape. Additionally, churros are now being served with all types of fillings, from chocolate to jams and custards.
As we walked down the street on the first day of our Fall holiday, heading in the direction of Placa de Catalunya (the city square), just north of the bustling La Rambla, J shouted, ‘Mama, see a café, I think it’s called ‘Starbucks’. I burst out laughing and she wondered why. Of all the cafés to notice, it had to be Starbucks.
I’m not at all surprised she didn’t know it, unlike its French Fries counterpart, MacDees. See, we don’t drink ‘real’ coffee, even our sweet and milky instant coffee is considered a betrayal by the Dutch of the true black richness of pure (bitter) coffee, earning it the name vekeerd’, meaning wrong. I have had a couple of drinks at ‘Starbucks’ – a Chai latte and a Frappacino, both of which I binned before I had drunk half the contents.
Occasionally at home, I’ll make a steamy hot mug of something instant, or the other, toss in a few crushed cardamom pods, a couple of small heaps of sugar and a touch of milk or cream and enjoy a cuppa. But rarely will I go to a coffee shop/bar/café for any such delights, so its no wonder my children have no clue about Starbucks.
I truly was and am super-touched that perhaps I have not totally corrupted them :-).
Anyhow, the next day when we were done with our ‘Hop on, Hop off’ city tour over the Montjuic hills and far away.
When we’d seen some of Gaudi’s spectacularly curved facades and done Camp Nou without spotting Messi or Iniesta, only their shirts lined up inside the FBC club, we stopped at a café and had Chocolate con churros.
The churros arrived hot, with an accoutrement of caster sugar in saucers and long tumblers full of ‘dessert-thick’ chocolate, not for drinking but dunking and eating. Churros in hand and spoons on stand-by, we dug in…the entire family, picky eaters, eager eaters, blasé ones and even the ‘son’.
We ooh’d and aah’d and huffed and puffed and when we were done, we ordered one more portion which was shared…’for the road’.
This scene repeated itself in the course of our week-long stay and in true ‘foodie’ style, we returned home on a Saturday with a 20 euro Churrera firmly in hand.
If you know not of what tools I speak, let me introduce the churro-making device to you. Commonly made of plastic and/or metal, Churreras resemble larger versions of icing tubes. Mine is a 15cm long metal tube, about 6cm in diameter with a lever at the top end and loose bottom which can be fitted with up to 8 different attachments.
The one I’m most interested in of course is the 6 point star-shaped flat nozzle for my churros, however the ‘star’s are not the traditional pointed tips but are rather flat topped.
The made up dough is put into the tube, the top properly fitted and screwed down and you’re ready for business. To form the unfried dough bits, the lever is lifted up and an internal attached plate is pushed down….pressing patterned ribbed dough out. This process is repeated till the dough is up.
After we were done with celebrating Spanish Tapas, the next step of ‘remembering’ our holiday was to make churros. First up making the mix was a ‘snap’ – we used the egg-less recipe that came with the churrera and liked it, even though it was slightly crisper and more cookie-like than the crisp outer – chewy inner churros we had in Barca.
The chocolate recipe was a bit trickier and though edible, is not worthy of mention. It was interesting for me to see that the pastry was similar to choux pastry, which is cooked and forms the base for profiteroles, eclairs and the like.The cooled dough goes in the maker and is piped either onto a plate/tray/other before being deep fried or directly squeezed out in long or short segments into hot oil for cooking. When it is bronzed all over, it is removed from the heat and then rolled in sugar, of which cinnamon sugar is the most common.
Today I decided to try another recipe, which had eggs in it hoping that the texture will result in more of what we had..only weeks ago. One thing I’ve decided to do as well is try the churros with a variety of scented and spiced sugars.
As for the chocolate dipping sauce, I’m keeping it simple, making it only with chocolate chips, fresh milk from our greengrocers and some sugar.
- If you don’t have a churrera, use the largest star nozzle tip you can find in your piping/icing set. While you could use around tip nozzle, the resulting churros won’t have the same texture as the ridged one. Connie of Homecookingrocks.com says ‘I used to think that using a star-tipped nozzle was just to give the churros a more attractive appearance but we discovered that it wasn’t the case. See, when piped out using a star-tipped nozzle, there is very little dough at the center. The pointed star tips, the grooves and the distances between them all came in contact with the hot oil resulting in crisp churros. The ones piped out from a sandwich bag were shaped like plain cylinders. The centers were still soft and the texture can only be described as soggy’.
- I find it much easier to press out the paste/dough onto a plate before frying – I avoid hot oil accidents and I can get them to the same length if need be
- Use a table knife to cut off the pressed-out dough from the churrera between lengths – using your hands is messy!
- If you are afraid of deep frying, try oven baking at the highest settings of your oven: place the baking tray one rung up from the centre and cook for up to half an hour or until the churros turn brown
Part #1: Churros
Basic recipe, adapted from Baca’s recipe, makes +20 ‘9cm’ long churros
Ingredients1 cup water, plus 2 tablespoons
2/3rds of a stick/75g unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon fine seasalt
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 loose, leveled cups / 220g plain or all-purpose flour, sifted
2 whole eggs, lightly beaten Vegetable oil, Rice bran oil, Groundnut oil, to deep fry
To add to the doughNuts- finely chopped otherwise they don’t come out of the cookie press Spices – vanilla, cinnamon, to taste
To flavor the chocolateLiqueurs or spirits – add a tablespoon or two of your favourite liqueur to the chocolate once it is ready Grated citrus zest – orange, mandarins, Clementine zest add an interesting and blossomy flavor
Use plain or all-purpose flour not self-rising flourToday (10th July, 2011), I ran out of plain flour and used self-raising instead, desperate as my daughter was for churros. This batch of dough produced wonderfully crisp and light churros. I was SHOCKED and glad for the discovery
- Don’t pack the flour into the cup when measuring. Use a large spoon to fill the cup and then level it off using the back of a table knife
- There is no need to weigh the flour after sieving
- To get air into the flour, use a whisk to incorporate some air if you don’t have a sieve or can’t find one
- To get a sugar coat on the fried churros, remove from the oil once browned and briefly drain on kitchen tissue for mere seconds, then roll in sugar at once
Organising the recipe parts
- The flavoured sugars are the easiest part of the recipe to make, so start with them or make them while the churro dough is cooling
- You can also make the chocolate up till the point of melting it with the milk. At this point you can set it aside to finish off later by adding the cornflour paste. You can thicken or thin the final mixture to your taste.
To make the batter/dough
Combine water, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Melt the butter without stirring and bring slowly to the boil, still without stirring. If you notice bubbles, remove the saucepan from the heat, letting the butter melt with the residual heat. And then return to the heat till the butter is melted. Then bring to the boil – at this point, you begin to smell the butter.
Once it boils, remove from the heat and add all the flour to the pan in one go. Stir slowly but continuously with a wooden spoon to combine.
Place mixture back on heat and stir until the batter releases from the sides, approximately one to two minutes. The resulting dough should be smooth and translucent with a ‘cooked’ mashed potato look about it. Let cool for about 10 minutes before proceeding to the next step of adding the eggs otherwise the eggs will ‘cook’ on contact with the hot dough.
If you don’t want to do the next bit by hand, put the cooked paste into your mixer on low speed and then add the eggs. Let mix till incorporated. Otherwise, do this by hand and add the eggs, then using all the effort you can (elbow grease), turn the wooden spoon round with circular motions, till the eggs are incorporated.
It will look loose and messy at some stage but worry not, hope is near. Once it starts to take on some cohesion, mix and mix till the end result is a smooth dough which should spring up slightly when pressed down and be of rather stiff consistency.
Let the churro batter cool down for up to 10 minutes. Then put the batter in the churrera or a large piping bag fitted with a star nozzle (and fill ¾ of the way full). The safe way and sensible way is to first pipe the batter out onto a plate/tray and then taking the next steps to cook.
I divvied up this dough into three portions:
Portion 1 went in the oven on a lightly greased tray to be baked. I wanted to try it out since I know that some peeps are nervous (rightly) too about deep frying
Portion 2 went into the deep freezer, in a single layer on greaseproof paper and covered with some cling film – I needed to test the freezing capability of churros (works well too, the kids had them for dessert, fried from frozen)
- Uncooked churros can be frozen – Pipe the batter onto a cookie sheet/baking tray which has been lined with greaseproof/wax paper. Then arrange the churros in a single layer, careful so they don’t touch each other too closely. Cover with clingfilm and set in the deep freezer. Once frozen, remove churros from the baking tray and store in Ziploc/freezer-safe bags. Return to the freezer and cook from frozen.
Portion 3 had some chopped almonds folded in – roughly chopped due to my laziness and not the best for the dough as the nuts couldn’t be piped out well in all instances. Still ended up with edible churros but next time I’ll do right by the nuts.
Preheat oven to the highest temperature, mine was 250 deg C
Lightly grease an oven tray and place churros on the tray. Once the oven is hot, put tray one rung up from the centre and let bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until ridges turn brown.
Unlike the fried churros, these oven-baked ones have more of a cookie crust, thicker and crumblier than their oil-dipped counterparts. The centres remain donutty but the exterior never takes on the bronzed look, staying a mixture of cream and earthy brown hues without shine or gloss. My daughter J really enjoyed them with some hibiscus sugar from my winnings of eons ago!
Preheat a pan with about 3-4 inches of oil or your deep fryer to 350°F.
When hot (and a tiny piece of churros thrown in bubbles up within 10 seconds), put the piped batter into the pan.
Fill the pan without crowding it so the churros have room to breathe. Once they start to brown, turn each one and fry until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove from heat once golden. Then toss the churros in any of the flavoured sugars. Serve, with extra bowls of sugars on the side.
Don’t forget to serve the chocolate sauce too!
Part #2: Flavoured sugars
The resulting sugars have great flavour and texture profiles. First up there is the finely ground caster sugar and flavouring, smooth, soft, scented and packed with flavour followed by the sweet and crunchy regular caster sugar. A great combination and topping not just for the churros but I can imagine them topping all manners of brulées, used in cakes and bakes as replacements for regular ole white or brown sugar, in desserts, chocolate work, pancakes, drinks and many more. If using the cinnamon sugar in yeasty recipes, beware the ‘its curse’, whereby it impairs the ability of yeast to rise!
Aromatic and fresh flavours are to be found in this sugar, like they provided in my summer strawberry jam, a cup of coffee would not be amiss.
IngredientsSeeds of 12 Cardamom pods 4 tablespoons caster sugar
In a mortar, crush the cardamom seeds and add to 2 tablespoons of caster sugar in a spice grinder. Blitz till whafts of aromatic, mentol spice hit you. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of caster sugar to the mix.
Store in a lidded jar and use as necessary
Cinnamon and rose sugar
I imagine this sugar being served on some sticky Middle Eastern pastry, and I feel the warmth and see the colours of the bazaars and the streets. Warming and scented,t his would be perfect with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate to drink. While not as pretty as my rose salt, I still love it!
Ingredients1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon rose petals 4 tablespoons caster sugar
In a spice grinder, combine the ground cinnamon and rose petals with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and blitz till the petals are finely ground. Don’t worry if there are larger flecks of the petals or about making it extra smooth.to the mix and stir well to combine.
Store in a lidded jar and use as necessary.
Fresh citrus fore notes with spicy, almost black pepper back notes, similar somewhat to the flavours of grains of paradise aka alligator pepper (a common cold remedy in Nigeria!)
Ingredients2 teaspoons dried yuzu zest (available in Oriental/Japanese stores) 4 tablespoons caster sugar
In a spice grinder, combine the dried yuzu zest with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and blitz till combined. Add the remaining caster sugar and mix well to combine.
Store in a lidded jar and use as necessary.
Part #3: Dipping chocolate
Ingredients100g Chocolate chips, milk, dark or a combination 4-5 tablespoons of milk or cream Optional, to thicken: a mixture of 1 teaspoon of cornstarch (cornflour) and 4 tablespoons of water Optional – caster sugar, to sweeten
Set a pot on low heat and add the chocolate chips and the milk. Let it melt, stirring often.
If you want to thicken, add the cornflour mixture and stir till ‘cooked’, a few minutes. Add sugar if desired then pour/scoop into small containers and serve with the churros.
And the verdict at the Café d’Oz was terrific. The kids loveeeeeeeeed them. As did my husband.
J said ‘Mama, these are better than the ones you made the last time and are as good as the ones we had in Barcelona’.
R ate it up with plain white sugar and no chocolate, she asked for seconds.
D boy saw them and said, ‘Mama, churros’. He had them sin sugar, con chocolate and also wanted more.
Husband of mine stood in the kitchen and ate a tray full, dipping the warm churros into a bowl of leftover melted chocolate.
And me? Well, I liked them and was glad I had made them but…I think they need some tweaking to be just like I remember from Barcelona. Till then……..